Ken Mandelbaum's MUSICALS ON DISC: 'Broadway's Biggest '97-'98'

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THE SHOW GOES ON (DRG)

Presented by the York Theatre Company last December, The Show Goes On presents the top-notch team of wordsmith Tom Jones and composer Harvey Schmidt, singing and playing their way through a career retrospective with the assistance of three singers. Helping things along tremendously is Jones' sweetly acerbic, amusing narration; Schmidt does not speak, but is at the piano throughout and joins in the vocals.

Recorded live, DRG's cast album of the show includes a fair share of rarities. There are songs from early revues like Julius Monk's Demi-Dozen and New York Scrapbook, an intriguing 1961 two-hour TV confection that starred Kaye Ballard, Jane Connell, Orson Bean, and Kenneth Nelson among others. You'll hear the discarded opening number for The Fantasticks, and three cut songs from 110 in the Shade, each tailored to be the big, cut- loose number for a different potential leading lady (Mary Martin among them). You'll also hear two of 12 unused I Do! I Do! titles songs (the ones included here were created for a version set in the '30s and for the unproduced film that was to have starred Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke), as well as the song from their latest collaboration, Mirette, that gives this revue its title.

Respectable as are singers JoAnn Cunningham (most recently in the Paper Mill Follies), Emma Lampert, and J. Mark McVey, some of the material here can be heard better performed on the cast albums of 110, I Do!, and Celebration. But this is a perfectly pleasant disc, if not the kind of thing I'll be playing frequently.


BROADWAY'S BIGGEST '97-'98 (Varese Sarabande)

The latest Varese Sarabande orchestral treatment of theatre music is a salute to the '97-'98 season, albeit one that cheats a bit by including numbers from '96-'97's Titanic and Jekyll & Hyde. The only unrepresented sort-of-new Broadway musical from the season just past is High Society; The Scarlet Pimpernel is oddly represented only by "Home Again," heard on the concept disc but not on Broadway; and surely another song from one of the new shows would have been preferable to "Edelweiss," the only inclusion from a revival.

The selections are performed by The Grant Geissman Quintet; Geissman is heavy on the kind of jazz arrangement that has the melody veering off into improvisation and becoming unrecognizable after a minute or two. Side Show's "Who Will Love Me As I Am?" and The Capeman's "Born in Puerto Rico" come off particularly well; the upbeat "Anything" from Triumph of Love gets a nicely languid rendition. Attractive as some of the stylings are here, it's hard to know for whom such a disc is intended; show fans can hear all of these tunes elsewhere, and jazz fans are not likely to be particularly drawn to this material.


JUDI CONNELLI: LIVE IN LONDON (Dress Circle)

A genuine original, Australia's Judi Connelli has done extensive stage (Chicago, Jerry's Girls, Into The Woods, Follies in Concert) and concert work. Her latest CD captures her live last January at The Talk of London, and, as tends to be the case with her albums, it's something to hear.

Connelli's is a unique sound - -a deep and very big dramatic contralto with great pianissimi -- and she sings and phrases with the grandeur and expansiveness of an opera diva; indeed, she comes as close to operatic vocalism as popular singing is ever likely to get. Wildly intense, she performs in a risky, sometimes over-the-top manner, yet manages to make all of her heart-on-sleeve histrionics work, thanks to the power of the instrument and the intelligence of the delivery.

The live disc consists almost entirely of show songs, with loads of Sondheim, Herman, and Loesser, and even "A Terrific Band" from Ballroom. While Connelli can soar over sizable orchestras and is here accompanied only (and well) by pianist Tom Helm, the disc is considerably more gripping than many recent vocal recitals.

-- You can contact me at kenmanbway@aol.com